Migrants Seeking Europe Catch Their Breath in Morocco

With a stable economy and a peaceful political climate, Morocco – which has always been a transit country for migrants — is becoming a potential new destination for settlement. The elusive dream for most of those who cross the Sahara, though, is still Europe.

No more than 15 kilometers separate the Spanish enclave Melilla and the Moroccan coastal city of Nador, in the northeastern Rif region. This tiny Spanish town of 70,000 people became a major crossing point for those seeking to reach asylum in Europe.

Melilla, together with Ceuta, are the remaining Spanish territories on the African continent and the European Union’s only land border. Precisely for that reason, many Sub-Saharan Africans and increasing number of Syrians dream of reaching the other side as a promised land and better life.

Both cities erected fortified borders as the pressure from migrants increased. Every year, hundreds of Sub-Saharans (many of those undocumented in Morocco) endeavor to cross the fences or embark on the perilous journey by boat across the Mediterranean.

Last month, rescue ships saved around 60 migrants who were adrift not far from Melilla. In early December 2016, at least 400 people broke through the border fence of Ceuta. On Jan. 1, another wave of 1,100 African migrants attempted to storm the same fence.

Mohamed Diaradsouba, 24, risked his life after he decided to depart Ivory Coast. He traveled almost 5,000 kms from Abidjan to Nador, passing through Mali and Algeria. He left his wife and one-year-old son with the hope of one day coming back.

“Where I lived there was no employment, I couldn’t get money to survive. I came to Morocco because I want to cross to Spain. But here there is no job either. I’m sure I’ll find a job in Spain, France, Belgium or Germany and make my living,” he told IPS.

He and a group of four companions rely on small donations provided by activists and the Catholic Church in Nador. Undocumented migrants are not tolerated by local police, who frequently conduct street sweeps and arrest those without legal papers.

When IPS talked to Diaradsouba on a cold November night, he was living in a rural community called Khamis-akdim, a 15-minute drive from Nador. It had been three months since he and some 300 other people Sub-Saharans Africa had set up a makeshift camp in the surrounding forest due to fear of entering the city.

“We’re camping in the bushes up on a hill. Life here is not easy. We have to walk every day to fetch water and food. We sleep in plastic tents, so when it rains everything gets wet. I didn’t bring any suitcase with me, I’m only wearing my clothes. We’re afraid of the police, they don’t know what human rights are, I’d better stay in the forest,” he said, noting that other nationalities like Cameroonians, Guineans and Malians share the same campsite.

The Ivorian migrant did not have any legal papers, refugee card or asylum seeker certificate of any kind. He is among the thousands of invisible undocumented foreigners in Morocco who are not recognized by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) or the Moroccan government.

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By Fabiola Ortiz